Category Archives: Dealing with sin

Maintaining our Freedom

In a previous post, I wrote about the freedom that Christ has won for us through His life, death and resurrection (read “True Freedom” here). In the post, I said that in Christ we have been set free in some very significant way.

First, we have been set free from the power of Sin (Romans 6:6).   “Sin is no longer our master. In Christ we are no longer beholden to Sin; we are no longer compelled to carry out those desires and practices of our natural self that are so destructive and demoralizing. We have been unchained from Sin’s power to dictate our life course. This freedom allows us as Christians to choose to obey God, to live godly, righteous lives, to pursue purity.”

Second, Christ freed us from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:15). We are no longer required to earn or maintain our salvation through self-effort or man-made rules. This freedom allows us to freely pursue an open, joyous relationship with Him.   We are no longer trying to “prove” how good we are or how worthy we are to have been saved.

But Paul goes on in his letter to the Galatians and says something that is truly remarkable and should cause us to pause to consider.  He says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Did you notice that? “Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery!” Paul is saying that even though Christ has blessed us with this freedom, it is possible for us to revert back into slavery – voluntarily! Why? Why – and how – would we do that? Paul answers that question. Because our flesh – the remnants of our old sinful nature – still tries to pull us back. And unfortunately it is too easy to simply go with the flow and go right back into our old habits, practices and attitudes. In other words, we put the yoke of slavery to Sin or Law on our own shoulders. But Paul says it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a way to maintain our freedom.

 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Gal 5:16, 25)

 Walking in the Spirit sounds mysterious, weird or super-spiritual, but is simply another way of saying “hanging out” with Christ – abiding – staying connected. This is the stuff of our daily Christian life. We walk in freedom by maintaining a close, open relationship with the Spirit. It is a walk – together – side by side. He does His part – instructs, guides, teaches, convicts – and you do yours – respond. You see, the flesh causes us to try to hide from Him (like Adam), but walking in the Spirit means we deliberately approach Him even, especially, in the most dark moments.

I want to suggest to you three tools, three weapons in our battle against the flesh that will help us stay connected with the Spirit. These three tools, when appropriately deployed maintain our freedom in Christ. These three tools are: Renounce, Repent and Forgive.

The flesh is informed and empowered from the past – all the things we have done or said or all the things that have been done or said to us. This does not mean that everything in our past is bad, there may be much to be thankful for and bless, but we simply acknowledge those areas where damage was done or sin embraced and close the door. That is where “renouncing” comes in. Renouncing is closing the door, disowning, disavowing or rejecting the “deeds of the flesh” in our past and not allowing them to influence our lives today.

I have written about repentance before (Rebellion and Repentance – Part 1, Rebellion and Repentance – Part 2). Repentance keeps our account current with the Lord. It is focused solely on our actions today and doesn’t let things “stack up.” Repentance is not feeling sorry or sad. Instead, it is a decision of the will to make different decisions. Repentance is about changing one’s mind or attitude, not about “mucking about” in our soul looking for junk. It is being open to the Holy Spirit spotlighting areas that grieve Him and agreeing with Him.

Finally, we have the tool of forgiveness. Again I have written about it before (The Hardest Person To Forgive). It is such an important and powerful weapon against the flesh because it short-circuits the flesh’s desire to hate, judge, condemn and seek revenge.  Forgiveness “unhooks” yourself from the effects of the other person’s actions or words by not allowing the other person to control or influence you today. Forgiveness releases the person who hurt you to God’s justice and mercy. It doesn’t mean we excuse or approve the other’s action, it simply means we no longer hold on to the pain. And don’t forget that forgiving yourself is just as important as forgiving others.

So there you have it. Maintaining our freedom in Christ comes from staying close and connected to Him. And He has given us some magnificent tools to help us do just that – to clear the emotional and spiritual clutter – that could hinder our walk with Him. Continue your walk in freedom. He is keeping stride with you each step along the way.

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True Freedom

The United States just celebrated 238 years since that fateful day in 1776 when the colonies declared independence from what they considered an unreasonable and tyrannical British monarch. Since that time the principle of freedom – both individual and national – has been deeply ingrained into the American character. It is one of the highest values we hold and are willing to fight for. And yet while I am not making a political statement here, I think we deceive ourselves if we think that our government or any human institution can bestow or guarantee true freedom to individuals. Freedom – true freedom – can only come from a much higher and reliable source. Humans crave a freedom of soul and spirit than can only be granted by our great Savior. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

As I read Scripture there are three main areas in which Christ sets us free and these three freedoms form the basis of a healthy, dynamic and joy-filled life. As Christians we are free from the power of sin, we are free from the power of the Law and we are free from the fear of death. Each one addresses a deeply seated need in our spirits.

As we read Romans chapter 6, we hear Paul tell us that we have been freed from the power of Sin. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. “ (Romans 6:6).   Sin is no longer our master. In Christ we are no longer beholden to Sin; we are no longer compelled to carry out those desires and practices of our natural self that are so destructive and demoralizing. We have been unchained from Sin’s power to dictate our life course. Now, to me, that doesn’t mean I can’t sin. It means we have the ability to say no to sin. This freedom allows us as Christians to choose to obey God, to live godly, righteous lives, to pursue purity. Without this freedom from the power of Sin a relationship with the Father would be impossible and loving Him would be unattainable. Freedom from the power of Sin addresses our deepest need to know and be known by God.

Second, Christ’s life, death and resurrection freed us from the power of the Law. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). By that I mean our attempt to earn God’s acceptance by the adherence to a list of rules and regulations. Living under the power of the Law means we have to be “perfect” or we need to try harder to be perfect. We can’t step out of line or we risk God’s displeasure and rejection. We have to try to make ourselves good enough to be loveable. It is both exhausting and impossible to keep up this kind of life. Fortunately we don’t have to. Read all of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We are not made acceptable to God by our self-effort, but by placing our trust fully in Christ. Being freed from the power of the Law means we can rest in the completeness of his sacrifice, it means we can get off the treadmill of performance and breathe a sigh of relief.

Finally, Christ has set us free from the fear of death. “…through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14,15). Why does this matter? Because being free from the fear of death addresses our need to know that there is something “more” than just this life. Death is not the end for us who believe in the power of the resurrection. We do not cease to exist. We do not face an eternity of emptiness. We look forward to that day when we see him face-to-face and feel his embrace. This assurance enables us to face the difficulties of this life and the possibility of persecutions with another-worldly joy knowing that death has no grip on us.

When I consider all that Christ has won for me – freedom from the power of Sin, the power of the Law and the fear of Death – I can’t help but stand in awe, grateful and joyful. I am free to be all that God has made me to be. I am free to live! Now that is freedom worth celebrating with some fireworks.

Dealing with Fear

There is a healthy kind of fear that is built into our human nature that protects us from danger – fear of spiders or lions or even fear of the dark. That kind of fear makes sense to me, but Scripture speaks of another kind of fear that is destructive and debilitating – Fear of Man. Look at these Scripture passages that describe the effects of fear of man.

Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. (I Samuel 15:24)

Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him. (John 7:13)

Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; (John 12:42)

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. (John 19:38)

For before certain men came from James, he [Peter] was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. (Galatians 2:12)

The fear of man causes us to change our behavior. To do things we wouldn’t normally do. It causes us to disobey God. It causes us to keep our real beliefs hidden. It causes us not to confess what is true. It causes us to act so that we will maintain our reputation or position or privilege. Fear paralyzes us and renders us ineffective.   But “fear of man” can look like fear of failure, fear of looking foolish, fear of losing reputation or credibility, fear of hurting other’s feelings, fear of speaking the truth. It is all the same thing with different names, because it comes from the same root.

How do we deal with this fear? Most people would approach this as a faith issue. We simply need more faith to overcome fear. We need to decide to do better. But this is not true.   First we have to understand the root of this fear – which is selfishness, self-preservation. My comfort, my well-being, my reputation, is more important than what God wants. My needs trump God’s call.

The solution to fear of man is not faith or will power, but Love. Our love for God must be greater than the love of self. In other words, “Do I love God enough to get out of my comfort zone to do what he is calling me to?” And our love for others overcomes the love of self. Do I love that other person to speak the truth? Do I love them more than I love myself? The problem is that we simply can’t summon up that love from within ourselves. We can’t just fabricate this fear-overcoming love. But here again our Father comes to our rescue.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear… We love, because He first loved us. (1John 4:18,19)

… because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

God’s is the only perfect love. And when we are confident in his love for us, when we can rest in Him, when our peace is found in his love, then fear is cast out of our life and we are free to love him in return and love others. It is because we are secure in his love that we can risk “failure”, knowing he accepts us. It is because we know we are loved unconditionally that we can risk looking foolish or being rejected by others or taking a difficult position. It is because his love has been poured into our hearts that we can risk saying difficult things to those we love. It is because he loved us first and perfectly that we can….

Overcoming fear is not a matter of mental decision or will power, overcoming fear grows out our assurance in our Father’s deep affection for us.

The Old Self Costume

There are a lot of striking images in the Bible that are meant to help us visualize spiritual truths, images such as the Church as a bride, or a human body.  There is the image of Jesus’ followers as vine branches or pick one of Jesus’ parables for vivid pictures of the kingdom of God.  Providing these kinds of mental pictures sometimes makes a difficult, vague concept more real and concrete, something we can refer to for understanding and encouragement. 

There is imagery that Paul uses in his letters to the Ephesians and Colossians that stood out to me recently and made a powerful impact on how I think about myself and sin.  He speaks of “putting off the old self” and “putting on the new self.”  Here are those passages:

But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.  (Eph 4:20-24 ESV)

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Col 3:8-10 ESV)

What struck me immediately is the idea of the old self as a Halloween costume.  We dress up in some outrageous costume and take on the persona of that costume, whether it be superhero, movie character or horror creature.  We identify with the costume character while we wear it and at the end of the night when we take the costume off we go back to being the true us. 

The old self that Paul refers to is that sinful, pre-Christ person we used to be and yet, even as Christians, we “put on” that self and take on the characteristics of that old persona.  We start to act and think like that person we used to be – that old self.  We wear him like a costume.  And the longer we wear the old self costume the more we believe him to be our true self, the more we identify with him and the harder it is to break free of his grip.  That is why Paul’s words are so powerful.  “Put him off!  Take off that old person!  That is not who you are!  Cast him aside!  That belongs to your old life!”  I can simply imagine ripping off the Halloween mask, pulling the costume off over my head and dumping it into the trash.  Never again to be worn.  It’s possible because that old self is only an ugly, outer shell not the real me.  I am not condemned to wear that old self costume. 

Even more exciting is that I have a new identity, a new self.  So when I struggle with sin and I start to  think the battle is lost, I remember that it is only an old self costume that I can – I CAN – pull it off and reveal the true me, the new self.  This one looks like God.  This one is clean and holy.  This one fits me like a glove.  This one I will wear forever.

Always a Way Back

Recently I sat down and through in one sitting the entire book of the prophet Hosea.  Ok it’s only 14 chapters.  When you read through an entire book of the Bible you get a feel for the entire sweep of the message; you get the ebb and flow.  As I read through Hosea, two things became crystal clear.  First, God was really, really angry about Israel’s unfaithfulness to Him.  But I saw in His anger, hurt; the pain of a scorned lover.  Their rejection resulted in judgment, yes, but also in sadness.  Second, I saw how He still loved His people.  In spite of their unfaithfulness, in spite of their going astray, He still calls them back to Himself.  Listen to what He says to Israel in the last chapter of the book

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.

I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.   I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon.  They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

 It’s incredible to me that God would say this!  Any normal human being would simply walk away from a relationship like that, from that kind of deliberate, defiant rebellion.  Fortunately, God is not like us, with Him there is always a way back.

 So I want to encourage you with the message of the book of Hosea.  No, not the unfaithfulness part, but the return part.  It seems to me that there are times when we think we’ve gone too far.  We’ve sinned too greatly.  We’ve strayed too far to come back to God.  “There is no way He could ever want me back now,” we think to ourselves.  But if God could look at Israel in the midst of their infidelity and love them, certainly He will accept us too. 

 So no matter who you are or what you’ve done, there is always a way back to God.  Go back, no, run back into His arms.  He’s waiting for you.

What’s the Point of Temptation

Seems like an odd question doesn’t it?  Is there a point to temptation?  Mostly we think that we are tempted just because that’s what Satan likes to do?  It’s just how it is, so we have to learn how to deal with it. Right?  Well I thought so too until recently when I listened to a lecture by a seminary professor on the Gospels.

He was talking about the passage in Luke concerning the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).  Typically we hear this passage used as a model for us in dealing with our own temptations.  We are told to respond to those temptations the same way Jesus did – mostly by quoting Scriptures.  Generally, I think this is still good advice, but what caught my attention was a statement this professor made about this incident.  He asked WHY Satan tempted Jesus.  What was his goal?  And the answer the professor gave was that Satan was trying to stop Jesus from embarking on His messianic mission even before He started.  In other words, Satan was hoping he could keep Jesus from caring out His purpose and calling here on earth.  After all, it had already worked once before when Satan tempted Adam to abdicate his God-given mission.

This got me to thinking.  If it’s true that WE also have a calling and purpose – which it is,

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,  which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

then it would make sense that Satan would likewise want to do everything he could to stop US from fulfilling our God-given purpose!  So being tempted isn’t a weakness on our part, nor is it just hassle to deal with, but instead being tempted is evidence that God has an “assignment” for us.  Satan is trying to stop us from carrying out God’s plan for us.  In a twisted sort of way, this is terribly encouraging.  God has called me, Satan knows it, hates it and is trying to destroy, kill or steal (John 10:10) what God has given me to do.

So as I face temptations, I can fight back by standing on the promises of God for my life.  I can talk back to Satan and tell him, “No! You will not sidetrack me from doing God’s will!  You cannot distract me from working out in His plans for me!”  We can be strengthened in our resolve to resist, not just because we “should,” but because we have a really important mission to carry out.  I would think that this would take the teeth out of the temptation.  So as you go about your life and you suddenly realize that you are being tempted to turn aside, stop and say to yourself, “I wonder what God wants me to do now?” and turn that temptation into an opportunity to listen to the Father.  Satan hates when that happens.

Satisfaction – I can’t get none (repost)

(Repost of yesterday’s post because of technical issues)

OK, so I made a shameless reference to the classic rock and roll song. It’s a good way to get your attention, but it also leads me to look more deeply at a very familiar Bible story. I have even written about it here previously (See Pirates, Loaves and Fishes). It’s the great story of Jesus feeding 5000 men (plus women and children – but who’s counting?)  with a couple of fish and some loaves of bread. Let’s look at that story again as found in the Gospel of Luke:

On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. (Luke 9:10-17, ESV)

What struck me personally and powerfully this time was the little phrase, “And they all ate and were satisfied.” They were satisfied! That means that they ate enough – not just to get by until they got to town or they ate enough not to grumble or they ate a few morsels. Jesus did not provide just an appetizer. No, they ate enough to be satisfied! They were full and content. Here are some other words for satisfied: content, pleased, fulfilled, gratified, happy.

To me that says something about the way Jesus provides for our needs. He is not stingy or minimalist. He provides to satisfaction. So I had to ask myself, “Am I satisfied with everything Christ has provided in my life?” Sadly, I had to answer, “No”. So I went on to ask, “If Jesus really does provide enough, then why am I grumbling about some things? Why am I not satisfied?” I realized that the problem certainly isn’t Him, so what’s up with me? If this is the life He’s given me, the job He’s given me, the church He’s put me in, the ministry He’s assigned to me, the friends and colleagues He’s surrounded me with, then that must be enough to satisfy and it’s time to stop whining and start appreciating. So I did – start appreciating, that is – and it completely changed my outlook on my life. It truly is possible to be satisfied with everything that Jesus has provided up to this point in my life. I was astonished.

Now let me quickly add a disclaimer or two. First, I am not talking about staying in an abusive or unhealthy relationship or situation. That is never ok. Second, I think there is a holy dissatisfaction that comes from wanting more of God in our lives. No matter how close we get, we will always want more. I’m not talking about that either. Instead, I want us to get to the point where we can see and acknowledge all that God has provided and say – truly say – “It’s all good.” If we can’t, then we must ask ourselves what is causing the dissatisfaction. Do we have unrealistic expectations of what a Christian life should “look like?” Is it because I’m not getting my way or things aren’t going according to my plan? Am I seeking my satisfaction in stuff or in other people instead of Him? Am I simply unwilling to actually accept that this is my life? Will I not acknowledge that everything comes from Him? Do I not trust Him to be good to me?

Some pretty tough questions. All of which I had to ask of myself. But in the end, I had to go back to that story in Luke. They all ate and were satisfied! Jesus provides abundance not meagerness. Jesus provides full-of-joy-ness not sparseness. So I looked at my life again. I looked at all that surrounded me and the people populating my life and I found myself contented, gratified – satisfied, because I finally realized that He provided enough.